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The biggest trades in sport history

Deep Dive

October 03, 2021
SOURCE: GIPHY
SOURCE: GIPHY

Not only is today October 3rd (hi, Aaron Samuels), it’s also the day Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback (QB) Tom Brady makes his highly anticipated return to Foxboro after leaving the New England Patriots for the Bucs...and then winning the Super Bowl with his new team.

  • So today we’re highlighting some of the biggest and most shocking trades and free agency signings that still haunt loyal fanbases to this day. Let’s scroll.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

It’s like when your high school friends meet your college friends 😬

— Brady’s response on Twitter when the NFL announced tonight’s game earlier this year. Yeah, it’ll be something like that...

🏀 The Decision

SOURCE: BLEACHER REPORT

Perhaps the most infamous free agency signing occured back in 2010 when NBA star LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. His announcement was met with fanfare, fury and even flames.

  • In 2003, the Cavs selected the Akron, Ohio native with the No. 1 overall draft pick. James won plenty of hardware in Cleveland (like Rookie of the Year, MVP and NBA All-Star), but never a championship title.
  • So, in 2010 he controversially decided to “take [his] talents to South Beach,” joining forces with superstars Dwyane Wade and (former Toronto Raptor) Chris Bosh to form one of the game’s most elite Big Threes.

The Heat went on to make three NBA Finals appearances in four years, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. But in 2014, after losing in the Finals, James was a free agent once again and decided to move back to Cleveland, bringing one title home to the Cavs in 2016.

  • Of course, James changed teams once again, joining the LA Lakers in 2018 and leading them to the NBA “bubble” title in 2020.
  • And while James turning his 2010 free agency decision into a 75-minute TV spectacle is often made fun of, what’s lost is that he raised over $2 million for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America during the program. Now that’s why he’s the King.

🏠 Who says you can’t go home?

SOURCE: TERRANCE WILLIAMS/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

There’s been no shortage of blockbuster moves in the WNBA’s 25-year history, and the 2017 trade which sent Elena Delle Donne (EDD) from the Chicago Sky to the Washington Mystics is certainly one of the biggest.

  • The Sky selected EDD No. 2 overall in the 2013 draft. She won Rookie of the Year, three consecutive All-Star nods from 2013 to 2015 and her first MVP award in 2015.
  • But EDD reportedly grew unhappy playing in ChiTown. So, in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 pick in 2017, the Sky sent their star to the Mystics, closer to her home state of Delaware.

In Washington, EDD led the Mystics to their first franchise semifinals appearance in 2017, first finals appearance in 2018 and first title in 2019. Oh yeah, and she was named the league MVP in 2019. What a homecoming.

  • Speaking of, former LA Sparks star Candace Parker’s move to the Sky earlier this year was the latest major W move. A Chicago native, Parker is currently on the hunt for her second WNBA title and first with her hometown team. There’s no place like home.

⚾️ The Curse of the Bambino

SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

For baseball’s biggest trade, we have to go all the way back to 1920. Last week, we covered the comeback that broke “the Curse,” so this week, we’re diving into its origin story.

Before LA Angel Shohei Ohtani, Babe Ruth was baseball’s original two-way star. Led by the young Babe, the Boston Red Sox won three World Series titles in four years, hoisting the trophy in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Ruth continued to dazzle during the 1919 season, leading the league in RBI all while pitching for the team, too.

  • Despite their success with Ruth, Red Sox team owner Harry Frazee shockingly announced in January 1920 that the Babe would be traded to Boston’s archrival, the NY Yankees. *gasps*
  • You might be thinking, surely the Sox received a great trade for the superstar. Nope. Boston sold Ruth to NY for a mere $100K (about $1.3 million today), which Frazee reportedly used to finance a Broadway play. How’s that for a curtain call?

The trade’s aftermath still haunts Sox fans to this day. Ruth went on to win four World Series titles with the Yankees and set countless baseball records before retiring as one of the greatest players the game had ever seen.

  • Meanwhile, Boston experienced an 86-year World Series title drought post-Ruth, which is commonly referred to as “the Curse of the Bambino.” Spooky.

🏒 The Trade

SOURCE: OILERS NATION

No list of league-altering sports transactions is complete without the NHL deal known simply as “The Trade,” which sent “the Great One” Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings just three months after he won the 1988 Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers.

  • Gretzky’s status as a hockey legend was already solidified. He had won the Hart Trophy (NHL’s MVP award) in eight consecutive seasons, the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP) twice and four Stanley Cups.
  • Naturally, LA wanted in. In August 1988, it was announced that Gretzky and two of his Oilers teammates were California-bound in exchange for two Kings players, draft picks and $15 million.

While Kings fans celebrated, Canadians mourned. One member of Parliament proposed that the government pass legislation to block the trade. Ahead of Gretzky’s tearful goodbye press conference, the Oilers owners even offered to call off the trade, but he refused.

  • While he didn’t lift another Stanley Cup, Gretzky did go on to win his unprecedented ninth Hart Trophy in his first year with the Kings. He’s also largely credited with popularizing hockey in California.
  • As for the Oilers, they did win the 1990 Cup without Gretzky, but fans will never forgive GM Peter Pocklington for letting “the Great One” become the one that got away.

🏈 The Return

SOURCE: DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP PHOTO

Of course we have to end things with the man of the hour, GOAT Tom Brady. After being drafted 199th overall (during the second to last round, still shocking) in the 2000 NFL Draft, Brady made his Patriots debut in November 2000.

  • He went on to lead the Pats to nine Super Bowl appearances, winning six times. It was a dynasty.

But after losing in the 2020 AFC Wild Card game, Brady had a marvelous time ruinin’ everything decided it was time for a change. In March 2020, the GOAT signed with the Buccaneers, ending an epic 20-year career with the Pats and breaking the hearts of New Englanders everywhere.

  • Their hearts were further shattered when another former Pat — tight end Rob Gronkowski — came out of retirement to join forces with TB12 in Tampa Bay. The duo poured extra salt in the wound when they won the Super Bowl in February.

So how will New England fans welcome their beloved QB when he makes his first return to Foxboro tonight? Tune in at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC in the U.S. or CTV2, TSN and RDS in Canada to find out. Getcha popcorn (and your tissues) ready.